By : Lauren Fox
It wasn’t uncommon in the 1950s for families to gather around the television together and watch the 5 o’clock news. And until recently, newspapers left by commuters littered subway stations and busses.
However, with the rise of participatory media sources such as Youtube, Facebook, Flickr and participatory news sources such as the Huffington Post, which offers its audience the opportunity to take part in a read/write culture, old forms of media have become outdated and irrelevant.
In an effort to make his industry relevant again, Jeff Jarvis, a professor of graduate studies in journalism at City University of New York , set out to do a study on what the future of journalism would look like. His answer: hyperocal, hyperlocal and hyperlocal.
Jarvis recently discussed post-newspaper journalism on NPR’s On the Media. Jarvis set out to answer the complicated question of what would happen if all of the newspapers in a top-25 meto market folded. Jarvis said that the newspapers would not be replaced by a single new entity but instead by a collection of many different products operating under an array of models.
What does Hyperlocal look like?
The hyperlocal blog community would be a remediation of local newspapers. It would include trained journalists who left their newsroom jobs or got laid off and chose to pursue their careers online. The ecosystem would include not-for-profit news organizations such as NPR and ProPublica. Those news organizations would continue to rely on donations and their tax-exempt status to survive. According to Jarvis, the ecosystem would also include the new newsroom, which would be a smaller staff of journalists who pursue beat and investigative journalism online. That would account for the nuts and bolts of the journalism we know today.
However, those “nuts and bolts” journalists would also have a new role. Jarvis argues that to guard against a cult of amateurs reporting on news and muddying the truth. Two things will have to happen.
First, readers will have to recognize legitimate news from bias and untruthful sources.
Second, Jarvis suggests that trained journalists would have a new role of working collaboratively with hyperlocal and special interest bloggers to train them, edit their work and help them develop newsworthy story ideas. The growth of the hyperlocal blog would make it easier for bloggers to market their sites to specific advertisers and would make it easier to commodify those targeted audiences.
Is Hyperlocal a lucrative model?
In his study, Jarvis says that the hyperlocal blog can be a lucrative business model. Today, there are hyperlocal bloggers that are making between $100,00 and $200,000 in revenue each year.Without printing cost, infrastructure overhead and large staff salaries to pay, Jarvis believes that a robust news ecosystem will be better able to serve its community for less cost.
When Google began matching algorithms to display ads that were the most relevant for each website and reader that was visiting a site, a new world of advertising took flight. And with hyperlocal blogs, the market is expected to be around $100 billion dollars according to an article for FastCompany by Michael Gluckstadt. Being able to connect customers with products in their geographic area and within their realm of interest is a double whammy for advertisers looking to commodify their audiences.
Jarvis projects that at the end of three years, hyperlocal focused news organizations will be able to bring in profit margins that are equal to the “glory days of newspapers.”
However, Jarvis does concede that the actual profits will be less because the new newsrooms are much smaller. Therefore, the 30 percent margin on the $20 million business will not be as lucrative as the 30 percent margin that existed on the old $800 million industry. However, Jarvis says that because it is profitable, it is a sustainable model.
Where is this model at today?
On March 2, 2009 the New York Times unveiled a new series of hyperlocal blogs that are targeted at individual neighborhoods and communities within New York City. The Local is composed of two seperate blogs – one covers the Clinton HIll and Fort Greene neighborhoods in Brooklyn and the other covers Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange, New Jersey. While the New York Times has assigned a staff member to manage, edit and write for each blog, the majority of content is written by a team of citizen journalists.
The New York Times chose to cover those specific geographic areas in an effort to compete directly with other hyperlocal blogs such as Montclair’s Baristanet, Broolyn’s Brownstoner and Google’s own Patch, which covers the same neighborhoods in New Jersey and also has a staff of 19 bloggers. In its conception, the hyperlocal model seemed to break down old media hierarchies. No longer were big news outlets the only ones with a say in what was happening. However, New York Time’s staffer Tina Kelley says that the leadership of major news outlets such as the Times can help make hyperlocal blogs such as The Local more competitive.
“It will be interesting to see how these blogs shake out in the coming years,” Kelley said. “In particular, I think the New York Times’s strategy of having staff writers and editors curate the blogs is inspired, and gives these a much better shot than so many unmanaged, automated citizen journalist blogs before them.
It was only a matter of time before citizens who were interested in making their own movies for Youtube, connecting to their friends on Facebook and updating their lives on Twitter would want to be a part of the news they read. The participatory ability of citizen journalists in the hyperlocal sphere is infinite, yet, hyperlocal blogs are also a place where professional journalists can still influence content and pursue news that matters.